NASA’s highly anticipated Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) began operations on the International Space Station with the Canadian Dextre robot and RRM tools March 7-9, 2012, marking important milestones in satellite-servicing technology and the use of the space station robotic capabilities.
The RRM Gas Fittings Removal task represents the first use of RRM tools in orbit. During the task, robot operators at NASA’s Johnson Space Center remotely control Dextre to retrieve RRM tools and go through the tasks required to remove representative fittings (located on the RRM module) used on many spacecraft for filling various fluids and gases prior to launch. Subsequent RRM operations include practicing robotic satellite refueling and servicing tasks using Dextre, RRM tools, and the satellite piece parts and interfaces contained within and covering the cube-shaped RRM module.
The Robotic Refueling Mission module, installed on its temporary platform on the International Space Station’s Dextre robot (Photo: NASA)
Launched to the space station in July 2011 aboard the last space shuttle mission (STS-135), RRM is the first in-orbit demonstration to test, prove and advance the technology needed to perform robotic servicing on spacecraft not designed for refueling and repair. RRM and Dextre will proceed through several tasks over about the next two years designed to demonstrate a wide array of servicing capabilities. RRM results are expected to reduce the risks associated with satellite servicing as well as lay the foundation and encourage future robotic servicing missions. Such future missions could include the repair and repositioning of orbiting satellites.
“The significance of RRM is that it demonstrates that robotic satellite-servicing technology exists now and it works correctly on orbit,” says Benjamin Reed, Deputy Project Manager of SSCO.
The Canadian Space Agency is an essential partner in RRM operations. Dextre, the space station’s twin-armed Canadian robotic “handyman,” was developed by the CSA to perform delicate assembly and maintenance tasks on the station’s exterior as an extension of its 57-foot-long (17.6 meter) robotic arm, Canadarm2. CSA wrote the software to control Dextre during RRM operations. Along with NASA Goddard and Johnson Space Center, CSA tested the software with flight-like tools and the RRM high-fidelity mockup in January-February 2012 at the MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. facility in Brampton, Canada. “The Canadian Space Agency has played a pivotal role in the development of space robotics, from the early days of the space shuttle to the work they are doing with Dextre on ISS,” says Cepollina.